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Hangmen Also Die!

Screening on Film
Directed by Fritz Lang.
With Brian Donlevy, Walter Brennan, Anna Lee.
US, 1943, 35mm, black & white, 131 min.
Print source: British Film Institute

Lang followed Man Hunt with a second anti-Nazi thriller, this one conceived now with his fellow émigré Bertolt Brecht. Closely based on the Reinhard Heydrich affair, the film traces the tense aftermath of the Czech resistance’s assassination of an SS general. Brecht envisioned the picture as a paean to peoples’ resistance, while Lang’s interests lay in sketching the various forms of pressure brought to bear by the Nazi occupiers and Resistance agents: in a darkly ironic scene given Lang and Brecht’s emigre status, a traitor gives himself away by inadvertently revealing that he understands German. The film’s writing credits eventually required arbitration before the Screen Writers Guild, with John Wexley awarded sole screenplay credit and Brecht sharing original story and adaptation credits with Lang. “Brecht got a raw deal,” Lang later acknowledged, and yet despite its concessions Hangmen Also Die! remains a singular artifact of the indelible European influence upon wartime Hollywood.

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